Grand old cities, like golden-agers, expand each new generation’s imagination.
Resplendent old cities remind me of extraordinary old people. Thriving, centuries-old cities are like illustrious, active senior citizens; neither let go of life, savouring every breath until the very end. These cities, like certain elderly people, do not simply lie down to await death.
The two stay stoic, remain resilient, while expanding their repertoire of vividly evocative stories, spinning tales to expand the imagination of each new generation.
Some grand cities and golden-agers, despite being battered and buffeted through the ravages of time, never fail to rise again and again. Each time they revive, they reinvent themselves, beginning a new cycle afresh.
Weeks ago I was reading about John Cale, solo artiste and founding member of the 1960s rock band Velvet Underground. Cale is 72 years old. He was interviewed about his soon-to-be-shown, most recent collaboration, LOOP>>60Hz: Transmissions From The Drone Orchestra.
The musician had teamed up with a techno-visionary architect, resulting in an art installation that was on last weekend at London’s Barbican. The art project comprised drones – dressed in lights, loudspeakers and even costumes – hovering above an audience as part of a performance.
One of the goals of the event was to visually redeem the word “drone”, currently associated with death and devastation. Apparently Cale, whose appetite for new and bold ideas remains undiminished, has always had drone (a repetitive sound he introduced into Velvet Underground’s music) as part of his melodic range. A radical innovator even back then, he’s always had sound, light and cinema enhancing his music.
He is not about to stop. He’s got to, he claims, have something that keeps him going, something of which he can say, “That’s different, that has an idea.”
I was reading Cale’s interview in New Delhi on my second visit to India’s capital this year. The old, historic city is like Cale. Despite, or perhaps in spite of, its glorious past and an unstinting future promise, no one in the city seems to rest on his or her laurels. It’s an exercise, a mass in constant motion.
Among the movement, cars honk, groan and trundle through the night incessantly. People move, eat and sleep almost restlessly. The media teases, taunts and opines ceaselessly.
Whether it’s the newly elected prime minister who is, seemingly, seen in a new village, city or state every day, or boys hawking the latest best-seller books at traffic lights, the city is never still. It is in a continuous state of collective movement, always after the next opportunity or idea.
A delightful new discovery this time around was Curry Collins – a tall glass filled with ice, gin, lemon juice and sweet syrup. It comes topped up with fresh curry leaves that take the edge off the gin, tantalising the tongue with a touch of spice. A wonderful new way to enjoy a time-worn tradition. It was served any time of the day at the bar of Indian Accent, the second of six Indian restaurants listed in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants of 2014.
As with Delhi, the demeanour of the restaurant’s celebrated chef – the modest Manish Mehrotra – belies his passion. He relishes transforming traditional Indian flavours into entrancing meals that fuse Western sensibilities with Asian nuances. In the most unexpected manner, this results in an explosive feast for the senses. His aim, he says, is to feed his guests well, like Indian mothers do, yet offer Indian food in unpredictable encounters.
The Manor, which houses Indian Accent, was another surprising find. This boutique hotel, designed by a Japanese architect and located in the upmarket residential enclave of Friends Colony, is a 1950s building that serves as one of the city’s first small “country” hotels.
In retaining that feel, the two-storey, 14-room hotel welcomes you. You feel at home at once. Old-fashioned with modern accents. Every convenience catered to, with enough private spaces to escape to, like the roof-top terrace and the lawn.
With little details like extra chocolates at turn-down time and staff who rearrange your cosmetics twice a day, the hotel offers another dimension in personal experience. On Sundays its garden is given over to sustainable, organic food suppliers.
While we may see old cities and old people as being in stages of decay, by building connecting bridges between past and present, the ancient and the aged perpetuate hope for the future, in new ideas.
Delighting in dead ends, Jacqueline Pereira seeks unexpected encounters to counter the outmoded. Find her on Facebook at Jacqueline-Pereira-Writing-on.